One of the league's scoring leaders, Tampa Bay Lighting center Steven Stamkos has evolved since breaking into the league as a first-overall draft pick in 2008. Stamkos tells ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang about his maturation as a player, the advice he's received from teammate Martin St. Louis and which baseball team has his heart (sort of) in this week's installment of the New York Minute.
STRANG: What's your take on this team as we near the midpoint of the season?
STAMKOS: I think we got off to a great start. Obviously, we took advantage of the good schedule in our favor, a lot of home games, catching teams back-to-back, [we] got off to a 6-1 start. Since then, it's been a little bit of a different story. Went through some tough times there -- I think we lost five, six in a row. But I think we're really starting to find the identity of our team. I think we've been playing a lot better. [We're] not necessarily getting the results we want in terms of points, but the process is ongoing and at least we're seeing some signs of life and seeing signs of guys picking up on things we're going over as a team, whether it's on practice or video. We're getting there. We've played some pretty good teams lately. When we're in the game, we've got to find ways to beat them if we want to be a good team, but the process has started to take its course, I think.
STRANG: As one of the league leaders in scoring, how do you feel about the way your game is going right now?
STAMKOS: When you're going through something like this, obviously your confidence is very high. You expect a lot from yourself and, for me, I know what my role on the team is and that's to produce offense -- still be a good two-way player -- but I like to think I like to be a difference-maker, a guy that can help the team win games, especially offensively. I'll try to ride it as long as possible. It can go the other way just as quickly. I went through that a little bit already earlier in the year, so you just try to realize the things you're doing, how hard you're working and why sometimes you're getting the bounces -- because you're in the right position. I just try to stay the course.
STRANG: People always talk about your one-timer, but it seems like you're trying to get away from it, diversify a bit. Is that a conscious effort or do you have to adjust based on how defenders are playing you now?
STAMKOS: I think it's a little bit of both. Honestly, technology these days and video teams, they do a lot of homework on areas of teams' games and individuals and they take things away, so you have to be conscious of that. You find different ways to get open and still produce that shot because it is effective. I think I have been able to do that.
I know talking to a guy like Marty [St. Louis] -- we have a great relationship -- I pick his brain all the time. He says you really have to reinvent your game every year. You have to find different areas to go to score, find different ways to score and for me, I think I take pride in going to the net, going to the tough areas, not getting necessarily the highlight-reel goals but still goals in themselves. One-timers will still be there. When you play 5-on-3, you can take advantage of that, but 5-on-5, 5-on-4 power plays especially, teams are aware of that and you have to find different areas of the ice.
STRANG: When you talk about your game evolving, how much of that also has to do with the improvement of your two-way game?
STAMKOS: For sure. That's something, especially as a center-man and the way the game is played with puck possession today, I want to be that guy that can be on the ice in all situations. Whether we need a goal in the last minute or we're up by a goal in the last minute, I want to be a guy that can be counted on. I'm getting there. It's not going to happen overnight. I realize that, but I'm working hard towards that, whether it's watching video or just by maturing as a player, playing a lot of games now, picking up on certain tendencies, whether it's in the faceoff circle, goalies, whatever it is, you learn by being out there and gaining that experience. As much as you want to feel like you know everything when you come into the league as a young kid, you don't. It's something you have to go through and it's definitely something I've been aware of.
STRANG: Some of you guys on the Lightning have become friends with Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes. Does that mean you're a Yankees fan or are you still partial to the Jays or Rays?
STAMKOS: I'm still partial. I'm definitely a fan when Hughes is pitching. He's a great guy. He's become a friend over the years. I don't know how a Cali boy became such a big hockey fan, but anytime they're down for spring training in Tampa, we'll go to a game or grab a bite to eat. He's a great guy, so definitely when he's pitching I'm a fan, but being a Toronto kid, I definitely still cheer for the Jays and obviously when I'm in Tampa, for the Rays. Kind of depends where I am.
STRANG: Have you ever gotten him on the ice?
STAMKOS: No. Well, we got him in skates, in our back room and his ankles were almost touching the floor. I don't know if he can handle the ice, but we joked about how we've got to get him out there one time.
STRANG: You'll have to let me know how it goes.
STAMKOS: Oh, we'll definitely take some video.